There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
When a band hits the peak of its popularity more than a decade into its career, its typical next step is to either entrench its success further or shrug and continue as though nothing ever happened. Spoon, however, is not a typical band. It flopped dramatically on a major label flush with scads of money and has since thrived on a thrifty independent. Its milieu is the world of spiky guitar pop but its biggest hit was a jaunty, horn-flecked acoustic shuffle. And so Spoon has taken it upon itself to follow up the success of 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by spinning its wheels. Transference sounds like nothing so much as Spoon being busy for the sake of being busy. It’s Spoon, all right, but whatever drive, curiosity, wit, and creativity characterized the band’s earlier work seems to have been replaced by merely one more “Ga.” It turns out to be one too many. Transference is larded with bits and scraps, which isn’t necessarily new—it’s practically all that 2002’s Kill the Moonlight was. Here, though, the scrappy pieces are presented as finished thoughts rather than experiments, and that’s where the trouble starts. “I Saw the Light” provides a keen demonstration: After a couple of minutes of a simplified glam shuffle, it tacks on an unrelated extended coda built around a repeated melody snippet played first on piano and then expanded to guitar. Like much of Transference, it’s a good idea in need of a song around it. The same thing happens with the locked-in momentum of “Got Nuffin,” only the great ideas there are the exact same ones at the core of 2002’s “Jonathan Fisk.” Then again, the latter song predates Spoon’s entrance into the mainstream, an excuse the band can’t use with “Nobody Gets Me but You.” With a hard but spare disco beat and slashing guitars, it aims to be a less declamatory Gang Of Four or (more likely) “Another One Bites the Dust” played in reverse. Instead, it ends up an aimless retread of the band’s 2005 song “I Turn My Camera On” with a slightly more involved bass line; the simplicity of the “Camera” bass line, however, was key to the song’s point in the first place. Spoon does score a bullseye with “Who Makes Your Money,” which is damn near slinky as Rob Pope’s pulsating bass tiptoes busily atop Jim Eno’s impeccable, straightforward drumming. (Eno, with his uncanny ability to never budge from the pocket, is Spoon’s quiet savior, as always, holding even the drearily dull “Out Go the Lights” together through sheer groove.) But “Who Makes Your Money” is also the only song that doesn’t water down a mixture of ideas from Spoon’s last three albums. Everywhere else, Transference captures a band losing its step precisely when it should be hitting its stride.